Windows Alternative Display Features

There are a number of built-in accessibility features of the Windows Operating System that will help you alter the way information is displayed or played aloud on the computer.

Interested in exploring more? You might find it valuable to also explore different Windows built-in alternative control and augmentative processing features, as some of these may make changes to how information is displayed.

Features that change the way you get visual information

  • Audio descriptions – describes what’s happening in videos.
  • Braille displays compatibility – in newer versions of Windows, Narrator is compatible with a number of different Braille displays
  • Background images – turns off background images that are overlapping with the content to help make the screen easier to view. 
  • Colour or size or features of the mouse pointer – make the pointer larger, change the colour to make it easier to view, or add trails or a flashing sonar locator to help avoid losing the pointer.
  • Cursor blink rate – change the blinking rate or fully turn off the blinking cursor.
  • Edge e-book reader – adjust the text spacing and have text read aloud for purchased or downloaded e-pub books in the Edge Browser.
  • Fonts – try out different system fonts to find out if one is easier to read (e.g. “Fluent Fonts” can be downloaded from Microsoft)
  • High Contrast – can benefit those who have difficulty viewing the screen. This feature allows heightened screen contrast making the text, icons and images easier to view.
  • Magnifier – a basic screen magnifier that enlarges information the screen in order to view the screen more easily.
  • Narrator – a basic screen reader that reads text and program information in most Microsoft products, but may have some functionality in non-Microsoft programs. This feature can benefit those with print disabilities or those who prefer to hear information rather than see it. Narrator can be controlled by a keyboard or can follow the mouse pointer.
  • Notification timing – increase the length of time notifications pop up to give you more time to respond or read the notification.
  • Personalization – adjust the colours and display of different items on the screen to meet your needs (e.g. remove the desktop image to make icon labels easier to read).
  • Reading View – switch into reading view on most web pages that have an article or main content to eliminate the extra ads, links, and other distracting information on the webpage. Reading view can be set to open with larger text or different colour schemes (e.g. inverted).
  • Size of text, icons, and tiles – this feature allows for the text and icon size larger making them easier to see.
  • Spacing – change the line spacing, word spacing and letter spacing if it helps with focusing or tracking across a line when reading
  • Thickness of the blinking cursor – this feature allows you to adjust the thickness of the cursor so it is easier to see.
  • ToggleKeys – will provide sound to specific keys when specific keys are pressed (e.g., Num Lock, Caps Lock, etc.). This is helpful for those who may be typing while looking away from the screen or those with a visual impairment.
  • Turn off all unnecessary animations – this feature provides you with the option of turning off animation effects. This feature can benefit those who get easily distracted or may find a cluttered screen confusing.
  • Zoom – change the zoom within individual programs to make document or webpage text and images larger.
  • On some touchscreen computers, if you touch the screen, the cursor will temporarily have a circle underneath it to show you where it is while you are moving it (e.g., using the arrow keys) until you start typing.

Features that change the way you get auditory information

  • Mono Audio – turn stereo audio to mono audio to have auditory information come out only one speaker/channel.
  • Skype Translator and video calling – video calls provide additional communication cues that can help facilitate understanding (e.g. sign language, lip reading, facial expressions, body language, hand gestures). Translator translates voice to text or text to voice to assist with communication on calls.
  • Text captions for spoken dialog – allows you to enable text captions for spoken dialog.
  • Visual notifications to sound – this setting allows you to receive notifications visually rather than audibly

Features that change how you navigate (and impacts display)

  • Cortana – Cortana is a digital personal assistant available in more recent versions of Windows. Cortana can perform tasks for you and read information aloud (e.g. read you reminders and appointment details).
  • Headings and the Navigation Pane – when using Word, use the different Heading Styles to organize your reports and documents. The Navigation Pane can then be used to provide a table of contents for easier visual navigation between sections. Headings are also recognized by certain screen readers for additional navigation options.
  • Keyboard Shortcuts – combinations of different keys perform different actions on the computer that can eliminate or reduce the need to use a pointer (e.g. ALT-F4, CTRL-W, and/or ESCAPE will close different programs or tabs within Windows to reduce the need to move your mouse to the “X” button and click to close). A list of Windows keyboard shortcuts can be found on the Windows Accessibility page.
  • Ribbon and Quick Access – customize the Ribbon and Quick Access Toolbar to organize where different functions are on the screen. Make ribbon functions larger by creating a new tab, using fewer functions on that tab, and/or user groups and group names to space out the icons.
  • Speech Recognition – allows the user to use their voice to interact with the computer, reducing the use of the mouse pointer and keyboard. Read more about voice recognition.
  • Spelling and Grammar – use Spelling and Grammar functions to proofread documents and reduce the number of mistakes that you might miss when editing visually.

Where to adjust the built-in features

Many of these features are found on the different versions of Windows (e.g. Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, and further back). However, there may be some differences in what features you have on your version of Windows, and there may be some slight differences in how each function works or where it can be found.

If you are using Windows 7 or older versions of Windows, most of these features can be found in the Control Panel, either under Ease of Access, Display, Mouse, Keyboard, Taskbar and Navigation. If you are using Windows 10 or 8.1, these features are found spread out between the older Control Panel (similar sections as above) and the newer Settings, either under Ease of Access, Time & Language (Speech), and Personalization (Background, Colours, Themes, Start, Taskbar). Others might be found within specific programs (e.g. individual Office programs to customize the ribbon). While the newer versions of Windows have added new features, not all options can be adjusted in the Settings and you may have to still explore the Control Panel to make certain changes. Office 365, the most recent version of Microsoft Office, may also have features discussed above or new accessibility features to test out.

If you want Windows to suggest some features that you might like based on your needs, you can “get recommendations to make your computer easier to use.” Find this link in the Control Panel under Ease of Access Center.

Keeping up to date with accessibility on windows

Technology is constantly changing, so keep an eye out for new features that could be beneficial for your or your students. Check out the Windows Accessibility Page for up-to-date information about Windows accessibility features.

Remember that everyone is unique and different features and settings may be used for a different purpose than they were designed. Explore the different settings in your Windows operating system and the software applications you use – you may end up finding additional tools or features that adapt how you receive information from your computer. And if you find something new and cool, send us your idea, and we’ll review it to see if it fits on the SNOW website or our social media pages!

Additional resources

To learn how this section relates to the core principles of the AODA Customer Service regulation, visit the AODA page on SNOW.

To learn of ways to innovate, develop, and design for accessibility, visit OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) website and the IDRC’s floe project website.